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Lucy Killea: A Political Icon Who Transcended Partisan Politics

As a young guy it didn’t take me long to figure out how smart Lucy Killea was. She was an extraordinary intellect and a great politician. She was clever and capable of not getting stuck in the ruts that politicians of our generation have unfortunately gotten trapped in. Lucy would often remind me that “knowing WHEN to be right is often as important as simply being right.”

The words below are more than 25 years old. I was proud to stand by her in 1991, but I can’t imagine any time when her words are more true or more important.

 

PRESS RELEASE
Lucy Killea (kil-LAY)
California State Senator
August 19, 1991

Killea Quits Democratic Caucus, Seeks Independent Status

SACRAMENTO – Senator Lucy Killea today announced her intentions to disaffiliate herself from the Democratic Party and leave the Senate Democratic Caucus. Citing the issues of political reform and partisan reapportionment, Killea made her announcement to the full Senate in its first session after returning from the summer recess.

Killea also announced her intention to seek repeal of a provision in California law which prevents an individual from changing party affiliation and running for the Legislature as an independent if the change has occurred less than twelve months prior to the primary. If Killea were to change her registration now she would forfeit her right to seek reelection in November 1992. Killea said she will wait until the law is changed before officially re-registering. However, she said her decision to leave the Senate Democratic Caucus would take effect immediately.

Killea said she and anyone else seeking office next year should have the choice of running as an Independent if they can obtain the required number of nominating signatures.

Attached is the full text of Senator Killea’s remarks.

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August 19, 1991
Senate Floor Statement
“Declaration of Independence”

Mr. President and Members of the Senate:

During the summer recess all of us were able to return to our districts and listen to our constituents, hearing what they think about the job we’re doing.

Now, setting aside our own individual job performances for a moment, what I’m hearing isn’t good. This institution, the Senate, the Assembly, the Legislature as a whole, is in serious trouble. And I’m not talking about the budget and the difficult pills we have asked everyone to swallow — the tax increases or the cuts, or the dissatisfaction of chronic malcontents. I’m talking about a much deeper dissatisfaction, even resentment, a sense among a broad section of the public, without regard to political affiliation, that this Legislature is interested only in ITSELF.

No matter how noble our inner most motivations are, no matter how solid our records individually, the fact is that time after time we give the public very good reason to think that our first priority is to make sure we get our full per diem — that our first priority is to carve out districts favorable to our own ambition — that our first priority is to maintain a hefty balance in our campaign treasury to discourage a challenger.

This is what the public believes and I don’t blame them. Oh, we can blame the press. We can blame negative political campaigns. We can blame initiatives. We can blame one special interest or another. We can even blame the other house or the other party or the Governor. But ultimately, the responsibility is ours and ours alone.

Take for example something as small as the meals brought in during session. We have put Senator Roberti in a terribly awkward position of having to defend us. Listen to this excerpt from David Roberti’s suggested response letter to a constituent concerned about the dinner brought into the Senate on July 14.

“Providing food is a prudent way of helping ensure that as many Members as possible are present.”

Is this the best we can say for ourselves? I don’t blame David Roberti for this. This is our collective responsibility. The same goes for the midnight Extraordinary Session where we conducted no business and collected four days of per diem on the 4th of July weekend. It’s simply not defensible. I’ve joined Senator Thompson in returning the per diem for that weekend.

We’ve lost the public’s confidence. And if you doubt it, just ask them. Simply ask the question: Do you approve of the job the State Legislature is doing? You know the answer. If you don’t trust public opinion polls, let’s put it on the ballot. I would be surprised if we got 30% approving of our job. That’s an F grade. And, ultimately we must face the music.

The answer is we must change — and change something more than district boundary lines.

Reapportionment won’t save this house. I fear it will only make things worse.

The answer is not to hide from the public behind gerrymandered lines of self-protection. Morally it is wrong. And practically, there simply aren’t enough hiding places. We have lost the public’s confidence, and it has been a failure of both political parties to provide the leadership to regain it.

So, after more than 40 years as a registered Democrat I have decided to ask for your help to leave the Democratic Party and re-register as an independent. I want to run for reelection in 1992.

We have lost the public's confidence, and it has been a failure of both political parties to provide the leadership to regain it.
Lucy Killea, August 1991 floor speech

I have a technical problem I need your assistance to resolve. You see, I can’t leave the Democratic Party and seek reelection without your permission. That’s right, the law simply doesn’t allow it. In 1969, a law was written that prohibits anyone from seeking partisan office if they have changed party affiliation within 12 months prior to the primary election for the office sought. This means that anyone who changes their party registration, in any way, after June 2 of this year, is ineligible to run for the Legislature in 1992. I was not aware of this until last week, when I had intended to re-register before returning to Sacramento.

This provision is an obvious attempt to limit the rights of individuals exercising their free choice in selecting party affiliation. I believe this statute is unconstitutional in that it places an additional eligibility requirement on prospective candidates beyond those specified in Article 4 Section 2 of the California Constitution. I have drafted amendments to the independent nomination statute which would change the one year period to 88 days, coinciding with the deadline for filing nomination papers in the party primary. This would allow not only me, but anyone else, the option of leaving their party and pursuing an independent nomination without forfeiting our right to seek election. Incidentally, independent nomination requires the substantial burden of obtaining signatures from 3% of the registered voters in one’s district — in my case well over 10,000 signatures compared to the 50 required for partisan nomination. I will be asking for your support for this legislation when it comes before you in the days ahead.

While my change of party is for the most part symbolic, symbolic of my dissatisfaction with the ability of the party leadership to come to grips with the issue of political reform, it was still for me personally a very difficult decision to make, and I wanted to let you know why leaving the Democratic Party is not easy for me.

And if you’ll allow me several more minutes, I’d like to tell you about the Democratic Party I joined and the one I want to leave.

I first registered to vote when I turned 21 in the summer following my final year at a Catholic College in San Antonio, Texas. I was signing up for the opportunity to vote for Franklin Delano Roosevelt whose name was on the ballot, and whose wife, Eleanor Roosevelt, I greatly admired.

The Roosevelts stood for the working men and women and for making sure that Americans had jobs, a roof over their head and didn’t go hungry. They stood for protecting women and children from abusive labor practices and for guaranteeing the security of retiring workers. And, in 1944, they stood more than anything for defending abroad the principles of freedom and democracy and defeating fascism.

I didn’t just sign up to vote for the Roosevelts, I signed up to work for them. I went to Washington D.C. and found a place in Military Intelligence and later when the Central Intelligence Agency was formed I worked there as well.

After the war I had the privilege of working with Eleanor Roosevelt herself. I was one of a number who went with her to London on the Queen Mary to the first meeting of the United Nations General Assembly.

It’s difficult to say at what exact moment we are bitten by the bug of public service. In my case it was sometime on this trip when I, just twenty-two years old, saw Eleanor Roosevelt speaking to ambassadors from all over the world, all of them men, showing me that it was possible for a woman, even in the man’s world of that time to make a tremendous contribution to her country and the world. When it comes to role models you don’t need many, you just need good ones.

In 1948 I missed my only election. I was in the Netherlands working on the reconstruction of Europe, the Marshall Plan, when Truman was elected without the benefit of my absentee ballot. I was so scared to death that Dewey had won that I haven’t missed an election since.

During the Lyndon Johnson administration my husband became fed up with President Johnson’s high handed tactics and he switched to the Republican Party. He’s never been very loyal (to the Republicans that is!), at least I’ve managed to get his vote, but he did offer me a different view of things which I think helped me avoid the frame of mind that Democrats were always right no matter what, just because we’re Democrats.

My first involvement in electoral politics began in San Diego in the 70’s and I was always a non-partisan participant. In fact, I really owe my appointment to the City Council more to Larry Stirling and Pete Wilson than I do the San Diego Democratic Party establishment. We managed to accomplish quite a bit in a non-partisan fashion.

Then I moved into the Assembly where I had to wear a team jersey, Democrats on this side, Republicans on the other. It wasn’t really my style but I played the game because that, I was told, was the only way it could be played. My district was equally divided between Democrats and Republicans and I always counted on support from both sides.

The notion of a safe district is an insult to the system of democracy.
Lucy Killea

Then of course in 1989 I sought and won election to the Senate in what was described as a “safe Republican district.” I ran as I always have as someone who sought to offer a choice on issues instead of party loyalty. Over the past five years, in three very contentious elections, my constituents have indicated support for my individual, non-partisan approach.

Last year, when I was new to this house, I announced with Common Cause and the League of Women Voters that I supported Proposition 131, which would have established term limits of twelve years for all legislative offices, campaign spending reforms, and establishment of an independent prosecutor for political crimes similar to legislation I had carried when in the Assembly.

My position was regarded as an act of heresy within my caucus and I was rebuked accordingly. The far more Draconian measure, Proposition 140, passed, and the Legislature has suffered not only from the cuts, but from the spectacle of going to court to undo the public’s will as expressed at the polls.

If successful, this lawsuit will do more damage to the Legislature as an institution than the measure itself. Imagine the outrage of the public when they learn that their effort to reform the Legislature, however clumsy it may have been, is tossed out by the court at the behest of the Legislature, and that the Legislature has offered no alternative in its stead except business as usual. Members, the cartographers cannot save us from this wrath, I promise you.

But I know this institution well enough to what I say on this subject will not alter the course chosen in pursuit of redistricting.

At least my announcement today should make the job easier. Do with my district what you will, without regard to party affiliation. I’m comfortable representing Democrats or Republicans or Independents in any configuration anywhere in San Diego County. In my mind, no district is safe or ought to be. Think about the phrase “safe district.” Safe from what? Safe from whom? The voters? The notion of a safe district is an insult to the system of democracy.

My change in party doesn’t indicate any change in my values, my philosophy, my legislative agenda, or my vote, nor any change in my commitment to work on those issues which I believe are more important to my constituents than anyone’s party affiliation. Partisan Republicans should take little comfort in my move. Joining the Republican party was never a consideration when I decided to leave this one.

As for young Californians who see no use in getting involved. I would still urge them more than ever to register to vote, to join a party if they so desire, but more importantly, to work for change. For me, I have come to conclude that I need to do something to get the message through to my colleagues and friends that things are indeed not well. This is my way of sounding an alarm.

For now, I have withheld from re-registering, but my intentions are unequivocal to do so after the law is changed. I have fought for choice all my life. Now, I would like to have a choice. And I would like the voters to have one as well.

In the meantime, I will continue as I have in the business of the house, but I will respectfully be excusing myself from meetings of the Democratic Caucus.

It’s a difficult day for me, yet now having said I have felt needed saying for quite some time, I feel a burden has been lifted. I sincerely hope some good will come of it.

Thank you.

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Photo Source: Sacramento Bee